Ben & Jerry’s Co-Founders Challenged Over Backing Boycott in West Bank But Not in US States With Policies They Oppose
The Jewish co-founders of the ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s were hard pressed to explain in a recent interview why they support a boycott of the West Bank but not of US states with laws they disagree with.
Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, who no longer control the company, have previously said they back the Ben & Jerry’s decision to end sales in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, areas it described as “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” by the end of 2022 because its business there was “inconsistent” with company values.
“We hugely support Israel’s right to exist, but we are against a particular policy” Cohen told reporter Alexi McCammond in a Sunday episode of the documentary-news series, “Axios on HBO.” McCammond then pressed Cohen and Greenfield about the boycott decision and told them, “You guys are big proponents of voting rights. Why do you still sell ice cream in Georgia? Texas [has] abortion bans. Why are you still selling there?”
After a long pause to give the question some thought, Cohen replied with a laugh and said “I don’t know. It’s an interesting question.”
“I don’t know what that would accomplish,” he added. “We’re working on those issues, of voting rights. … I don’t know. I think you ask a really good question. And I think I’d have to sit down and think about it for a bit.”
When pushed further about the Texas anti-abortion law, Cohen said: “By that reasoning, we should not sell any ice cream anywhere. I’ve got issues with what’s being done in almost every state and country.”
Greenfield replied, “One thing that’s different is that what Israel is doing is considered illegal by international law. And so I think that’s a consideration.”
Thirty-five states in the US have anti-Israel boycott laws. Arizona, New Jersey, Texas and Florida have already announced that they are taking steps to divest from Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s parent company. Greenfield believes those states have made decisions “largely based on misinformation” and that “Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever are being characterized as boycotting Israel — which is not the case at all. It’s not boycotting Israel in any way.”
Greenfield also said he was not surprised by the backlash the company faced for its new policy against Israeli territories, “and yet when it happens, it’s still painful.” He told McCammond, “I understand people being upset. It’s a very emotional issue for a lot of people and I totally understand it. It’s a very painful issue.”
Meanwhile, Cohen said he was “totally fine” with being called antisemitic because the accusation is “absurd.” He also thinks the company’s ban on Israeli territories will not significantly affect Israel’s economy and that it will be just another “drop in the bucket.” He explained, “it’s not a financial stance. It’s a policy stance.”
Greenfield concluded by saying that “Ben & Jerry’s publicly supported Occupy Wall Street [and] Black Lives Matter, but over the years, the company continues to sell more ice cream and thrive.”
The co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s, who are also supporters of the two-state solution, defended the company’s decision in a joint op-ed for The New York Times, saying that “while we no longer have any operational control of the company we founded in 1978, we’re proud of its action and believe it is on the right side of history.”